I remember the day it dawned on me. I was standing at the back of the church watching as a dozen of our key women buzzed around. One woman was hanging decorations, others were setting tables, some were making centrepieces, others were in the kitchen preparing the food. As I looked at this extraordinary, talented, gifted group of women it occurred to me that very few of them would hear the bible talk that night, and not one of them had felt able to invite a friend to the outreach. How could they? They’d be far too pre-occupied with the logistics.
The story of Mary and Martha came to mind.
“… a woman named Martha welcomed [Jesus] into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.””
There are a few important words in this passage that help us get to the root of the problem. The first is ‘distracted’, which can also mean ‘pulled away’. While her sister sits at Jesus’ feet learning, Martha is pulled away from Jesus and his teaching. The second key word describes what is pulling her away: ‘much serving’, which can also be translated ‘much ministry’.
Martha has the long awaited Messiah, sitting in her house teaching her guests, yet her ministry of meal preparation is stopping her from being with Him.
Sadly, I think we see this all too often in our churches. Women offer to get involved in ministry, but because of our fears of what women can and can’t biblically do, or the woman’s own desire to be ‘behind the scenes’, we give them ministries like morning tea, organising rosters, planning events and cooking meals. These are good and necessary ministries, but they can pull people away from time with Jesus. I often see women being pulled away at end of the sermon to set up morning tea, or pulled away from the talks at a conference to run background logistics.
Yet Jesus tells us that Martha’s way isn’t the best way. Jesus praised Mary’s choice of sitting at His feet with the men and learning from Him. This is ‘the good portion’. Jesus does not relegate women’s ministry to cooking, decorating and events planning. He doesn’t dismiss those activities, but there’s a problem when these ministries pull women away from what really matters and leave them anxious and troubled about many things. Jesus wants women to prioritise time with Him. This is the one and only thing that is ‘needed’ or ‘necessary’.
Before asking women to do helping ministries, we should first ask them how they are going in their relationship with Jesus. Are they resting secure in Him? If not, it is all too easy for their focus to suddenly become about how well they are doing, how much their service is needed and how important they are to the church. These become status and identity issues that leave us women anxious and troubled.
T2Women was borne out of the realisation that many women’s ministries pull women away from Jesus. I started suggesting to some women that they read the Bible one-to-one with another woman. Sadly, many expressed a lack of confidence in their ability to do that. So I developed T2Women as a ministry model to help women gain confidence – not in their own abilities, but in God’s Word which speaks to them and the woman they are meeting with.
The basic structure of T2Women is that each woman sets aside one day per week for a year to be trained. They are encouraged to have four intentional relationships across the categories of REACH (a non-Christian), CONNECT (a newcomer/fringe person), GROW (another Christian) and SERVE (a woman serving in another way at church). At least two of these will be one-to-one Bible reading relationships and we pray regularly that their non-Christian friend will read the Bible with them too.
One of the difficulties for T2Women is that it challenges the Martha in all of us. We like to be needed, we like to be busy and we like to be noticed. But concentrating on four intentionally Jesus-centred relationships is not urgent and others do not generally notice it. It is, however, an opportunity to sit at Jesus feet and learn from him.
My hope and prayer for women who become T2Women is they will be refreshed, encouraged and joy filled as they open God’s Word with other women.